NOVA student Willie Brown is flying high in NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars Program. From CLRI to FOWA, he’s leaving a trail of success wherever he goes.
We recently settled in for a conversation with Willie, a NOVA IET student and participant in NASA’s Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) program. We were eager to delve into his remarkable experience and trace his journey through NOVA IET.
Brown, currently pursuing an A.S. in Information Technology, a C.S.C. for Network Engineering Specialist, and CompTIA Industry Certifications, discovered this excellent opportunity through a Canvas announcement last year. Despite fierce competition among hundreds of community college students, Brown stood out and actively engaged in Mission 1: Discover and Mission 2: Explore within the NCAS virtual experience. To top it off, Brown received an invitation to Mission 3: Innovate-Capstone Project, scheduled to take place at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California!
Mission 1 and Mission 2 are five-week programs, deeply immersing participants in NASA’s missions and STEM careers. Meanwhile, Mission 3 is a three-week endeavor, consisting of a 2-week online segment followed by a one-week residential experience. During this time, scholars like Brown will contribute to NASA’s missions by developing possible solutions to current challenges faced by NASA.
As he embarked on Mission 1, Discover, Brown found himself engrossed in a NASA orientation that set the stage for the subsequent NCAS missions. This phase offered students a comprehensive insight into NASA’s ongoing projects and pathways for involvement.
The online program blends various STEM activities, including expert talks, interactive media, group work, tests, and guidance from seasoned educators, providing students like Brown with an engaging learning experience during Mission 1.
He encourages students to explore the program, noting that Mission 1 is achievable due to its virtual nature. He explained that participants delve into NASA’s directorates and focus on major ongoing projects, such as Artemis.
Artemis II, slated as the first crewed mission to the moon since 1972, is scheduled to launch a year from now. Brown emphasized its significance, stating, “The space program affects life on Earth much more than you might initially think. For example, research takes place on the space station that can be beneficial on Earth. Research topics include plant growth, changes in bone density, chemical processes for the development of medicine, and more. It’s really exciting in addition to the first person of color being on the Artemis II team.”
Transitioning into Mission 2, Explore unfolds as a simulation where students craft solutions for missions to the Moon or Mars. This phase focuses on teaching them the art of balancing choices within set limits. Simultaneously, within the career simulation, students step into mock NASA roles, showcasing the importance of teamwork and personal skills essential for monumental missions, such as exploring the lunar surface.
Brown was a member of the Apollo Green team, tasked with deciphering which rocket to utilize, defining payloads, specifying the mission objectives, selecting landing sites, and managing numerous other crucial elements.
When allocating roles among team members, Brown humorously compared the process to steering clear of the frantic scramble for supplies at the cornucopia in The Hunger Games; in their case, the “cornucopia” encapsulated all the available STEM roles in Exploration. Thankfully, the team swiftly resolved their roles due to time constraints, spurred by the impending presentation of their project.
His role centered on public affairs, necessitating the creation of a marketing plan outlining their approach to disseminating the program to the public. He also strategized on how to keep stakeholders informed about their progress while navigating the challenge of addressing encountered issues without revealing excessive details to other teams.
Amidst his involvement in the NCAS program, Brown’s plate extends far beyond. Besides being a NOVA student, he is deeply engaged in various roles. He serves on the Student Advisory Group for Virginia Workforce Recovery, collaborates with the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, holds positions as a NOVA Corps intern with Alexandria Enrollment Services, and interns with the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and CACI Corporation.
When questioned about his perspective on the importance of IET fields, he elaborated, “The world has shifted—now, we’re all interconnected through this internet, so there are fundamental things that everyone needs to comprehend in order to protect themselves.”
On doing CLRI at NOVA
Reflecting on his journey at NOVA, Brown highlighted the significance of completing the Career & Leadership Readiness Institute (CLRI). He firmly advocates for its value, stating, “It’s worth the time and energy invested. An absolutely fantastic program—it’s priceless.” He specifically praised several beneficial aspects such as mock interviews, guidance from subject matter experts, insightful visits to data centers, resume assistance, and the invaluable support from Career and Technical Education Coordinator, Andy Chavez, and IET Career Advisor, Sedrick Settle.
Furthermore, the CLRI focuses on imparting soft skills, an aspect Brown noted as crucial irrespective of one’s field. He acknowledged the significance of interpersonal abilities since interaction with people is universal across professions. He identified essential soft skills such as maintaining eye contact, effective communication, active listening, the art of asking questions and seeking clarification, mastering intonation, delivering both positive and negative news, demonstrating respect, and offering basic technical support.
First Place in the Future of Work Academy (FOWA)
Additionally, last fall, Brown participated in the virtual Future of Work Academy (FOWA), an institution specializing in cybersecurity career preparation. Notably, he clinched first place in the FOWA Innovation Incubator Challenge by presenting an idea centered around connecting individuals with limited resources seeking employment opportunities to free community resources. His concept involved establishing virtual cohorts within the community. His focus lay in imparting fundamental typing skills, recognizing its essentiality in today’s landscape.
Engaging in NOVA IET
Regarding advice for those contemplating NOVA’s IET programs, Brown stresses the need to dispel the notion that IT professionals are innate wizards, emphasizing that everyone starts as a learner. His advice is to initiate learning, seek guidance from successful individuals, and craft a solid learning plan, starting without delay.
For non-traditional students, he urges active engagement within the NOVA experience, advocating for the exploration of unfamiliar opportunities. He emphasizes the significance of not holding back academically or experientially due to age differences. In the competitive arena of professional life, he suggests embracing the diverse experiences within the classroom while understanding that they may also be competitors in securing dream jobs.
Highlighting the importance of a support network, Brown acknowledges the influential role of Jack Bidlack, NOVA’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, as a mentor and supporter. “One of my champions is Mr. Bidlack. Anytime something happens to me, I always send him a note to let him know what’s going on. He’s like my cheering section,” he said with a bright smile.
Looking ahead, Brown envisions completing his studies at NOVA and transferring to a four-year university, preferably one with an active honors program or a small liberal arts school offering an engaging environment. He also expresses his commitment to lifelong learning, currently pursuing a mathematics class at NOVA.